Opinion: Brereton report on war crimes in Afghanistan: A Muslim’s response

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Last Updated on 29th January 2021

Naosheyrvaan Nasir, Australia

The Brereton report on misconduct by Australian Special Forces in Afghanistan told the public that our country’s elite military unit was not full of glamour and honour, but it had secrets to hide.

Lashkargah, Afghanistan, as viewed by Hodoyoshi-1 satellite

With the redacted version being released to the public on 19 November 2020, the long story short of the four-year long enquiry recommended 19 soldiers be investigated for the illegal killing of 39 Afghan prisoners and civilians and the harmful treatment of two others.

Living in the West, we are accustomed to hearing such remarks made against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but when the tide turns to our own military’s conduct on that same soil, then that itself opens up a new dimension.

How do you handle allegations of war crimes made by the very nations that claim to be the peacekeepers and peace-brokers between warring factions?

This is in addition to the Middle East being so rife with conflict that one could be forgiven for being very confused on who is on which side.

From an Islamic perspective, the line on the sand is very clearly drawn. The purpose of war is to bring about peace and nothing more. There is no room to justify the reasons for war such as natural resource exploitation, the “threat of communism” or any other excuse that does not have anything to do with peace as its ultimate aim.

The conditions set out in the Quran regarding warfare are more to do with protecting the right to freedom of religion, but they also point out conventions that are to be followed with regard to warfare.

In chapter 22, verse 40 of the Holy Quran, it is said that “permission to fight is given to those against whom war is waged” i.e. the military of the victim nation has every right to fight the oppressor, and that is it.

Also, in chapter 8, verse 62, Allah says in the Quran, “and if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it” – thus, reiterating that establishing peace is the ultimate objective of any armed conflict.

These two verses show that Islam’s perspective of warfare is only for the sake of creating peace in the troubled land. This commitment to peace goes back to the governments that initiate their troops to invade and attack foreign lands.

This point of mine was made by elite solider-turned-federal-politician, Andrew Hastie, who, while criticising the way Australia’s longest war has been represented, wrote in The Australian that “we ignored the true nature of war and sanitised it” and how MPs are simply given “a pat on the head” from defence briefs and how soldiers on multiple deployments “lose their way and become hard of heart”.

These allegations of war crimes may reflect a need to create cultural change within the military, but they point to a broader problem of going to war for the sake of war. The governments that initiate these endless wars for their political gain, over time, without any commitment to peace, become just as complicit as the soldiers that commit these war crimes due to the lack of progress made on creating long-lasting peace.

Hence Islam has made it very clear from the beginning that war is a means of achieving peace and nothing more. And if the opposition will trade fighting for dialogue, then it should be pursued, without delay.

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